Sometime back, I was invited to talk about my job to a group of aspiring journalists. My, did that 45 minutes jog my memory! The talk covered a range of topics, one of them being my experiences in search of a story.
I recalled a time, not so long ago, when someone agreed to talk about her marriage experience and discuss what led to her divorce. Her story was to be one of three for a feature that was to put the spotlight on the rising cases of divorce in Kenya, and included the perspective of a lawyer who has represented numerous individuals in divorce processes over the years.
I had a sit down with the interviewee and we did the interview, her only request being to see the story before publication. I obliged because it was such a personal story, and it would have been unforgivable of me to get even one fact wrong, considering that her photo would accompany her story. I thought I had done a pretty good job of telling her story, therefore I wasn’t worried.
But she wasn’t of the same opinion. Among other things she pointed out was the fact that the story was “too raw”, that she had expected me to moderate the facts, not to be so blunt about it. She went ahead and informed me that I shouldn’t publish the story. She had changed her mind.
I was in a dilemma, the story was scheduled to run the next day, and I knew that there was no way I could get another interviewee to replace her in such short notice, and of course, it would have been unethical to publish the story after she had pulled out.
The feature did run, but minus that interview, which I had poured all my writing skills into. I have never been so disappointed in my life. Of course, that was not the first time that an interviewee had chickened out on me at the last minute, it goes with the territory, and you just have to swallow the disappointment fast and start the search for another story.
There have also been times when I have been the one to turn down a story, not because it is was unworthy, but because I knew that once it was in the public domain, the life of the giver of the story will never be the same again, that he or she will regret having given it then. I normally ask such interviewees to give themselves a few months, and if they are still willing to tell it, then we’d do it.
From experience, those that share very personal stories while the wound is still fresh regret it once it is out in the open. Before social media, the backlash from the public was subdued, simply because the story did not do much travelling, and therefore, did not reach a big number of people, and even if it did, there wasn’t a platform for readers to give their feedback.
One only had to contend with neighbours and relatives who would point fingers and whisper behind your back. With the advent of social media, however, stories travel much faster and wider, reaching even people who have never met you but who will have a ready opinion about you and what you should or shouldn’t have done and troll you for it.
Not only this, the internet never forgets, and 20 years later, someone will unearth that story that you shared in a moment of desperation, anger and hurt and use it against you. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t tell your story, you should, because there’s nothing as therapeutic as baring your soul – telling it could be the first step towards healing.
In a nutshell, what I’m saying is that before you open up your heart and share your story, make sure that you are ready and strong enough to take the impact of the reactions it may elicit. So, what’s your story, and would you like to share it with me?